Question: How do I find time for my creative work?
FROM : Vincent (@jvtoups) via DM
Q: I need creative advice! My wife and I had a baby three months ago. I’m also the primary breadwinner with a full time job. I’ve also got creative aspirations.
Previous to this phase of my life I’ve always just allowed my creative projects to develop organically, from conception to conclusion, but now my free time is suddenly so enormously compressed that that seems impossible.
And yet I am so inexperienced with the practice of intentionally planning and cultivating creative work that, if you add intense sleep deprivation on top of it all, it feels very much like my creative life is dead forever.
How do I fit my previous freewheeling creative life into suddenly much tighter constraints?
A: I have two kids. There’s a learning curve, definitely. When your child is a newborn or infant, and they need so much attention and assistance, it can be tricky finding the time to get things done (especially when you’re half-asleep). I found that during that moment in my own life, I started using what little free time I had as efficiently as possible. If it was just 15 minutes, I used each second of those 15 minutes to push something forward. You plant seeds, and then continue cultivating them the next time the baby decides to finally nod-off for a few minutes.
The thing is, once you have no time, it’s easier to see how badly you used to waste it—checking email every two minutes, “surfing the web,” endlessly liking things on Facebook and Instagram. None of that adds up to anything, but 15-focused minutes can be the start of something incredible. This was an important lesson for me.
As my kids got older and needed less 24/7 help, I was able get more sleep and cobble together more moments for creative work. But I kept trying to use my bits of free time as efficiently as I’d learned to use them when I was wandering the streets in a new-parent daze. Jake and Henry are now 4 and 7, and honestly I’m the most productive I’ve ever been. I’m doing more now with a full-time job and a family than when I was a teenager with all the time in the world. I think that’s an underrated side of parenthood: You learn how to juggle and multi-task and make the most of each second.
It’s unique to each person, of course, so we did some research in our archives and came back with some other responses on how to make the most of time. Hope this helps!
That’s advice that people give a lot of folks when they’re saying, “Oh, how do you make time for a creative process when you’ve got kids, or a day job or a million, laundry, a raccoon infestation in your basement?” Whatever it is, you need to carve out time, and descend it. That’s the whole purpose of that book, The War of Art. The world is trying to take your creative practice away from you, and you need to defend it. You have to fight back against the voice that says, “This is selfish. This is useless. Why are you spending time on this time? You should be doing dishes. You should be doing whatever.” I think the same holds true for bigger picture seasons, the creative seasons in your life. That it’s just as important to, perhaps even more important than if you have a day job, to schedule that restorative time off, and to schedule creative work time, and that’s something I’m still working on, but I’m starting to think about it, not just on the day-to-day scale but also in the bigger picture.
People put stuff off, like the angry guy who didn’t climb the mountain when he was 20 because there wasn’t time. No, you didn’t make time. Any project… “One day, I’m gonna write that novel.” Pal? You better start tomorrow morning because the right time never happens. It’s when you boldly determine it. It’s like running on a rainy day. You’re fine once you get out there. The only difficulty is getting off the couch when you lace your shoes up.
When you’re working on something that you really enjoy you’ll make the time for it… [When dealing with creative blocks,] I just sit down and force myself to write. I think for so many years I looked at writing as this thing like, “Oh, yeah, an idea comes to you and then you write.” Realizing, oh no, it’s not that. Writing is like any other job.
In addition to being a poet you are a teacher and an editor. How do you balance the demands of your work life with your writing life?
For a long time it wasn’t a problem. Even with those two jobs—teaching and editing—I still had plenty of time to write. I would find times that were free. My schedule was pretty flexible so I could block out the times.
Things got crazy once I had a kid and got busier. Plus, I’ve been doing other editing projects. I’m editing the New York Times magazine poetry page and some other things right now. I’ve had to be super disciplined about making time to write. When I realize things have gotten totally out of control I start blocking out time on my calendar: a couple of hours, at least several times a week, if not more. I just get cracking. I have a lot of “process” days, which is what I do to write poems. If I have a certain specific amount of time to do a process, I can get into the writing more quickly that way. I think that’s really good for people who have more or less completely fucked up schedules. There’s other reasons why I’m interested in those things too, but one of the good things about “process based” writing is that you can jump into it.
Eventually the band asked me if I wanted to come back. It was after I’d had my little girl and they wanted to know if I’d come back and just do a few shows. It always starts with a few shows. (laughs) Eventually those few shows led to going back on tour. We’d always figure out a way to make it work though. I’d bring my baby and a nurse and my husband, we’d have a family bus.
With my daughter, and with juggling everything, there hasn’t been a profound change in how I look at time. Though, with a lot of these works, when I was performing them myself, there was an escapism… There has always been escapism in them. After I had children, and stuff happened and I became very happy in each moment, I haven’t been as desperate to jump into those escaping pieces.
Brandon Stosuy is Editor in Chief at The Creative Independent and a Music Curator at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. He was formerly Director of Editorial Operations at Pitchfork. He co-founded and co-curates the annual Basilica Soundscape festival in Hudson, N.Y. and the ongoing Tinnitus music series in NYC. For the past several years he and the artist Matthew Barney have collaborated on a series of live events, objects, and publications. They launched a Trump Countdown clock in June 2017 across from the UN. His anthology, Up is Up, But So Is Down: New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992, was published by NYU Press in 2006. His first children’s book, Music Is, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2016. He has a second children’s book forthcoming, also on Simon & Schuster, in 2018.
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